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Should We Say Whose or Who’s? When to Use Each and How

Should We Say Whose or Who’s? When to Use Each and How

“Whose” and “who’s” are two completely different words that have the same pronunciation, whichever way you pronounce them. And that “identicalness” is a big reason why the two are confusing. So, what’s “whose” and “who’s”, and how are they different from each other?

“Whose” is a possessive pronoun that denotes “belonging to”. “Who’s” is essentially a contraction of “who, is” or “who, has”. The two are rooted in “who”, but they cannot be used interchangeably. To help you understand better, the “Knock knock. Who’s there?” joke cannot use “whose” instead of “who’s”.

Read on to learn more about “whose” and “who’s”, how they get used in sentences, how to differentiate between the two so you do not use them incorrectly in your texts, and lots more.

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“Whose” – Definition

“Whose” is a possessive variant of “who”, the pronoun. The word is a pronoun/determiner that denotes “ownership” or “belonging to”. The term is used in questions enquiring “who has or owns something”. “Whose”, in simpler terms, denotes “possession”.

Generally, a “possessive” noun or term has an apostrophe in it. “Whose”, however, doesn’t have one. But do not let that make you assume “whose” is not the possessive variant of “who”.

“Who’s” – Definition

If a word has an apostrophe (‘) followed by “s”, it’s typically the term’s possessive variation, as mentioned above. With “who’s”, however, it’s an entirely different story.

The word “who”s” is the contraction of the terms “who” and “has” or “who” and “is”. In other words, the apostrophe is used in place of a missing letter(s). Since “who’s” categorically and unapologetically brings together two words, it cannot mean or represent anything else.

With “whose”, there may be room for interpretation, however.

“Who” – Definition

Before learning how to use “whose” and “who’s” in texts, it’s important to get briefly introduced to “who”, which is the base word for the terms discussed above.

“Who” is a pronoun – like “she”, “he”, “I”, “they”, or “we” – used to denote animate subjects. It’s used to ask questions concerning “which individual did what”, “who is that person”, etc.

“Whose”, “whom”, “who’s”, etc., are the pronoun’s derived forms.

Using “Who” in Texts

“Who” can be used in both statements and question sentences. It helps to frame questions, such as:

  • Who did that?
  • Who did she meet that night?
  • Who did they speak to?

An interrogative pronoun that’s similar to “who” is “which”. It refers to either non-humans or humans.

Besides being “interrogative”, “who” is also a relative pronoun, which helps you frame statements such as:

  • These are the students who will be joining today for a two-month internship.
  • This is Mary, who I believe you already know.
  • The guy, who cuts my hair, won the lottery.

Now that you have a brief understanding of “who”, read on to learn more about its “derivative” terms.

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Using “Whose” in Texts

The term “whose” is used in texts as an adjective. It invariably clarifies or describes a pronoun or noun. A couple of sentences “whose” is typically used in:

  • Whose pen is this?
  • Until I find out whose pen is this, I shall keep it with me.

If considering using “whose” in your text, make sure it’s not used in place of two separate words.

Once that’s taken care of, ensure the word denotes “a sense of belonging”. In other words, the term should be used to describe “who owns something”.

For example, if you find a pair of abandoned dumbbells in the hostel, you should ask, “Whose dumbbells are these?”.

Here are a few more sentences illustrating how “whose” is employed in texts:

  • John, whose dad works at the local watch store, is planning to set up his own watch shop sometime next year.
  • Whose socks are those?
  • I do not care whose mistake it was. I just don’t want it to be repeated.

In all of the sentences above, “whose” is not substituting “who, is” or “who, was”. It’s, therefore, used correctly.

Traditional Usage of “Whose”

“Whose” was traditionally used to describe people. For example:

  • Jake, whose got the biggest biceps in the gym, will be training us from tomorrow.

Over a period, it became grammatically acceptable or correct to employ “whose” in texts to describe things that were places or inanimate objects. For example:

  • Paris is a city whose fashion is always trendy and avant-garde.

The Connection Between “Whose” and “Whom”

An object pronoun, “whom” is a term used as a verb or a preposition’s object. It is quite similar to “her”, “him”, or “them” in that regard.

Though “whose” is etched in “who”, it’s a lot more comparable in meaning and application to “whom”. For example:

  • Whose dog is that?
  • To whom does that dog belong?

If you’re thinking about the possible link between “who” and “whom”, that exists too. But it’s a bit more complicated topic and certainly not the scope of this article.

Using “Who’s” in Writings

“Who’s” is a contraction, as mentioned above. Here are pairs of sentences illustrating that point:

  • Who is coming with me to the mall?
  • Who’s coming with me to the mall?
  • Who has got an idea that beats her suggestion?
  • Who’s got an idea that beats her suggestion?

If you are not sure about using “who’s” in a sentence, just replace it with the words it contracts. In the above sentences, “who’s” replaces “who, is” or “who, has”.

Why are Contractions Not Preferred in Business/Formal Writing?

A contraction is like an abbreviation, bringing two words together, like “don’t”, “isn’t”, and “who’s”. It helps save time and get thoughts or the intended message out or across quicker.

Contractions, however, have a bad rap going for them in the literary world for various reasons, which include:

  • They do not look pretty in texts.
  • They come in the way of the reading experience.
  • They could be challenging for people who speak English as their second language to comprehend the text.
  • Contractions, thanks to the apostrophe, could be misinterpreted as a “possessive” word when not (like with “who’s”).

Usage of contractions in formal works – such as resumes, essays, scholarly works, publications, etc. – are looked down upon as they’re believed to weaken a sentence or give the writing a more “casual” vibe.

However, proponents of contractions believe the truncated words are handy and have their place in all forms of texts.

The Origin of Contractions

Contractions, such as “who’s”, are commonly used in speeches or conversations. That has been the case for centuries – since the 16th century, to be specific.

The shortened words were introduced to texts around a century later, during the 17th century, primarily because printers back then placed limitations on the number of vowels to be used per page. Apostrophes, as a result, ended up replacing the vowels.

By the 18th century, contractions fell out of favor in formal texts. In a speech, however, contractions have been going strong, even in formal lectures or interactions.

When is It Okay to Use Contractions?

Determining whether to use or not use contractions in formal texts depends on the given format and its rules/expectations. Your preference for them also counts.

For scholarly writings, cover letters, etc., a more formal writing approach is usually mandated. The tone of personal essays or blog posts, however, can be a bit relaxed or loose.

In formal writing, “contractions” can help with readability, but writer discretion is advised. The following are scenarios in which “contractions” are acceptable in formal texts:

  • When using individual quotes directly.
  • When using idioms that contain contractions already (taking the contraction out could hurt the idiom’s essence or simplistic charm).
  • When writing footnotes (where it’s okay to deviate from “formality”).
  • When trying to showcase a personal writing style and voice.
  • When discussing “contractions” themselves.

The following are circumstances in which it’s not advisable to use “contractions” in formal texts:

  • When drafting professional reports, formal essays, and other pieces of scholarly writing.
  • Whenever it’s possible to replace a contraction with the words that it replaced.

Professional compositions and scholarly articles, and even texts from classic to modern literature have their fair share of contractions. And contrary to what the sceptics may believe, the usage of contractions has not affected the “formal” tone or “professionalism” of the classic writing pieces.

Writers who support the use of contractions in texts posit the theory that condensed terms are used in the real world, and not including them in any form of writing could make the particular text come across as “forced” and “inauthentic”. Texts without contractions may not feel as if the writer or author is directly talking to the reader.

It all boils down to the tone and voice you want to convey through your writing. If contraction help or you fancy them, go ahead.

But irrespective of how “natural” and “flowy” you want your texts to seem or read like, specific contractions can be a bit too casual for inclusion in formal texts, which include:

  • Ain’t: Extremely informal and also not considered to be proper grammar.
  • Could’ve/ should/ve/ would’ve: Makes for awkward writing.

The ideal approach is to sprinkle a few contractions here and there in your texts. Do not use too many, too often, for the text to come across as way too relaxed or not a serious piece of writing.

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The Confusion Between “Who’s” and “Whose”

The fact that a lot of people get confused between “who’s” and “whose” is an understatement. If there ever was an award for the most confusing set of words in English, “who’s” and “whose” may take the cake. Even native speakers or well-versed writers find it hard to differentiate between the two terms at times.

“Whose” and “who’s” are homophones, or they sound the same, as in “hoos”, which rhymes with “shoes”. This, as a result, can make it difficult to ascertain which word to use of the two in texts. For example:

  • Who’s shoes are these?
  • Whose shoes are these?

One of the above sentences is grammatically correct. But to people less proficient in English, ascertaining which one’s fitting can be challenging.

As mentioned above, an apostrophe before “s” is usually placed in a word to denote “belonging to something”. For example, “The car belongs to Jim” is or can be written as “Jim’s car”. It can also be framed into the question, “Whose car is this?”.

Not to mention, both “who’s” and “whose” are used in question sentences. For example:

  • Whose house party is it?
  • Who’s hosting the party?

Both are also used quite commonly in non-question constructs.

Also, “who’s” relatively close to “whose” – in its meaning and how it gets used in sentences.

For instance, here are a couple of sentences that are quite similar or do not change much in their meanings despite using “who’s” and “whose”, respectively:

  • Mr. Jacobs, who’s known for his oratory skills, will be conducting a workshop on campus next week.
  • Mr. Jacobs, whose oratory skills are top-notch, will be conducting a workshop on campus next week.

And this closeness could be confusing since the contexts or the sentence structure for “who’s” and “whose” can be quite similar. For example:

  • Tim, who’s in Miami for two weeks, will be missing the weekend party.
  • Michael, whose known for his vagabond lifestyle, will not be making it to the party this time as well.

The sentences above are not similar in their contexts, but their structure or the use of parenthetical commas is quite identical. This could confuse some writers.

Remembering the Difference Between “Who’s” and “Whose”

Despite the similarities that make it difficult to differentiate “who’s” from “whose” or the other way around, being aware of some of the basics can help to delineate them and use them correctly in sentences.

The major and perhaps the only tenet to be familiar with is “who’s” is contracted and “whose” is not. Also, remember “who’s” is not “possessive”, while “whose” is.

Since “who’s” is a merging of two terms, remembering that rule alone should suffice to use the contraction correctly in texts. Read out the sentence in your head or aloud if no one’s around. If “who is” can be used in the text, “who’s” is the right word. If not, use “whose” instead.

As mentioned above, “whose” is possessive, which means “whose” usually has a noun right next to it. If there’s a noun after “who’s” or “whose”, use “whose”. Use “who’s” if there’s no article or noun after the word.

Example Sentences with the Term “Whose”

The following is a list of sentences employing “whose”:

  • Whose book is this?
  • Whose cat spilled all the milk?
  • Whose battalion is that?
  • John Steinbeck, whose books I got introduced to during college, has profoundly impacted my career.
  • Whose car alarm has gone off?
  • Do you know whose takeout box is this?
  • Whose idea was this movie?
  • I know a lady whose kids take dance classes there.
  • Whose house is she going to?
  • Whose red car is parked right in front of my house?
  • Whose pizza is this?
  • Tony carried a torch, whose light stream glanced on the gravel road and wet steps.
  • Whose rules apply here, yours or mine?
  • A little girl whose name was Charlotte lived with her parents in the house a couple of years ago.
  • I buy milk directly from the farmer whose cows roam free.

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Example Sentences with “Who’s”

The following are sentences with “who’s” in them. To confirm, “who’s” is correctly used in the sentences, replace “who’s” with “who, is” or “who, has”.

A tip: The majority of the “who’s” used below are replacing “who” and “is”.

  • Tom told me who’s visiting us tomorrow.
  • Who’s excited to see the movie?
  • Kenny, who’s traveling to Las Vegas next month, loves casinos.
  • Tony feels safe when he is with Judith, who’s taken several self-defense classes.
  • John compiled a list of who’s attending the class tomorrow.
  • Anyone who’s experienced in graphic design and animation is welcome to lend me a helping hand with this project.
  • Who’s hungry? I am going to make some pasta.
  • Who’s scared of wolves?
  • Does she know who’s speaking next?
  • Who’s your family doctor?
  • Who’s that?
  • Who’s eaten their food already?
  • Who’s been to this place before?
  • Who’s watched all seasons of the show?


To conclude, both “whose” and “who’s” are variants of “who”, the pronoun. The trouble people have with the two terms is their identical sounds when pronounced and the relationship between an apostrophe and a “possessive” variant of a word. When these two rules are juxtaposed, things become confusing.

“Whose” is a “possessive” form of “who”, unlike “who’s”. But because it doesn’t use punctuation, it confuses people who were taught in school that an apostrophe should mark a “possession”. Not to mention, “who’s” uses an apostrophe but it’s not a “possessive variant of “who”.

By the way, “who’s” and “whose” aren’t the only two related terms to spin heads. “It’s” and “its” is another pair of words that could cause similar confusion in people’s minds. But since “its” is not as difficult to comprehend as “whose” is, “it’s” and “its” are relatively easy to work with or incorporate correctly in texts.